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Angel Island Immigration Station  

Judy Yung and Erika Lee

The Angel Island Immigration Station (1910–1940), located in San Francisco Bay, was one of twenty-four ports of entry established by the U.S. government to process and detain immigrants entering and leaving the country. Although popularly called the “Ellis Island of the West,” the Angel Island station was in fact quite different from its counterpart in New York. Ellis Island was built in 1892 to welcome European immigrants and to enforce immigration laws that restricted but did not exclude European immigrants. In contrast, as the primary gateway for Chinese and other Asian immigrants, the Angel Island station was built in 1910 to better enforce discriminatory immigration policies that targeted Asians for exclusion. Chinese immigrants, in particular, were subjected to longer physical exams, interrogations, and detentions than any other immigrant group. Out of frustration, anger, and despair, many of them wrote and carved Chinese poems into the barrack walls. In 1940, a fire destroyed the administration building, and the immigration station was moved back to San Francisco. In 1963, the abandoned site became part of the state park system, and the remaining buildings were slated for demolition. Thanks to the collective efforts of Asian American activists and descendents of former detainees, the U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997, and the immigration site, including the Chinese poetry on the barrack walls, was preserved and transformed into a museum of Pacific immigration for visitors.

Article

Anna May Wong and Asian American Popular Culture  

Shirley Lim

Anna May Wong (January 3, 1905–February 3, 1961) was the first Chinese American movie star and the first Asian American actress to gain international recognition. Wong broke the codes of yellowface in both American and European cinema to become one of the major global actresses of Asian descent between the world wars. She made close to sixty films that circulated around the world and in 1951 starred in her own television show, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, produced by the defunct Dumont Network. Examining Wong’s career is particularly fruitful because of race’s centrality to the motion pictures’ construction of the modern American nation-state, as well as its significance within the global circulation of moving images. Born near Los Angeles’s Chinatown, Wong began acting in films at an early age. During the silent era, she starred in films such as The Toll of the Sea (1922), one of the first two-tone Technicolor films, and The Thief of Baghdad (1924). Frustrated by Hollywood roles, Wong left for Europe in the late 1920s, where she starred in several films and plays, including Piccadilly (1929) and A Circle of Chalk (1929) opposite Laurence Olivier. Wong traveled between the United States and Europe for film and stage work. In 1935 she protested Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s refusal to consider her for the leading role of O-Lan in the Academy Award–winning film The Good Earth (1937). Wong then paid her one and only visit to China. In the late 1930s, she starred in several B films such as King of Chinatown (1939), graced the cover of the mass-circulating American magazine Look, and traveled to Australia. In 1961, Wong died of Laennec’s cirrhosis, a disease typically stemming from alcoholism. Yet, as her legacy shows, for a brief moment a glamorous Chinese American woman occupied a position of transnational importance.

Article

Asian American Activism  

Vivian Truong

Activism is a defining element of Asian American history. Throughout most of their presence in the United States, Asian Americans have engaged in organized resistance even in the face of violent exclusion and repression. These long histories of activism challenge prevailing notions of the political silence of Asian Americans, which have persisted since the rise of the model minority narrative in the mid-20th century. Examining Asian American history through the lens of activism shows how Asian Americans were not simply acted upon, but were agents in forging their own histories. In the century after the first substantial waves of migration in the 1850s, Asian Americans protested labor conditions, fought for full citizenship rights, and led efforts to liberate their homelands from colonial rule. Activism has been a key part of determining who Asian Americans are—indeed, the term “Asian American” itself was coined in the 1960s as a radical political identity in a movement against racism and imperialism. In the decades since the Asian American movement, “Asian America” has become larger and more diverse. Contemporary Asian American activism reflects the expansiveness and heterogeneity of Asian American communities.

Article

Asian and Asian American Women in the United States before World War II  

Shirley Hune

Asian women, the immigrant generation, entered Hawai’i, when it was a kingdom and subsequently a US territory, and the Western US continent, from the 1840s to the 1930s as part of a global movement of people escaping imperial wars, colonialism, and homeland disorder. Most were wives or picture brides from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and South Asia, joining menfolk who worked overseas to escape poverty and strife. Women also arrived independently; some on the East Coast. US immigration laws restricting the entry of Asian male laborers also limited Asian women. Asian women were critical for establishing Asian American families and ensuring such households’ survival and social mobility. They worked on plantations, in agricultural fields and canneries, as domestics and seamstresses, and helped operate family businesses, while doing housework, raising children, and navigating cultural differences. Their activities gave women more power in their families than by tradition and shifted gender roles toward more egalitarian households. Women’s organizations, and women’s leadership, ideas, and skills contributed to ethnic community formation. Second generation (US-born) Asian American women grew up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and negotiated generational as well as cultural differences. Some were mixed race, namely, biracial or multiracial. Denied participation in many aspects of American youth culture, they formed ethnic-based clubs and organizations and held social activities that mirrored mainstream society. Some attended college. A few broke new ground professionally. Asian and Asian American women were diverse in national origin, class, and location. Both generations faced race and gender boundaries in education, employment, and public spaces, and they were active in civic affairs to improve their lives and their communities’ well-being. Across America, they marched, made speeches, and raised funds to free their homelands from foreign occupation and fought for racial and gender equality in the courts, workplaces, and elsewhere.

Article

Japanese Immigrant Gambling in Early 20th-Century California  

Chrissy Yee Lau

Gambling was a central facet of life for Japanese male laborers in early 20th-century California. From the late 19th to the early 20th century, labor contractors and Chinese gambling dens offered gambling to Japanese laborers to maintain a consistent cheap labor force and large consumer pool. Many laborers approached gambling as a form of leisure, an opportunity for getting rich quickly and building a sense of community. After the Gentlemen’s Agreement was passed in 1907–1908, Japanese elites led anti-gambling campaigns aimed at Chinese gambling dens in their larger project to build the empire abroad and acquire domestic civil rights. By the 1920s, Japanese-run gambling dens became more established, but the hardships of Japanese immigrant wives prompted collaboration with the Japanese Associations of America to address gambling among married men. The larger community memory around gambling is often told from the wife or children’s perspective, recounted with pain and suffering over how gambling tore families asunder.

Article

Japanese Immigrants and the History of Rice in California  

Yu Tokunaga

The cultivation of California rice began in 1909 when a Japanese agricultural engineer succeeded in growing short-grain Japonica rice varieties in Butte County. With commercial cultivation starting in 1912, rice fields rapidly expanded across Northern California. Japanese immigrants, however, continued to eat short-grain rice imported from Japan with a strong sense of affection. This situation dramatically changed in 1918, at around the end of World War I. The war led to an expansion of demand for food worldwide and a serious shortage of rice in Japan, resulting in the steep rise of rice prices and the Kome Sōdō (Rice Riots). The Japanese government decided to ban Japanese rice exports to prevent further inflation and solve the food shortage problem in Japan. This policy marked a turning point from which Japanese immigrants in the mainland United States began to mainly eat California rice. It also sparked serious debates among the Japanese who had heavily relied on Japanese-grown rice for their daily diet, forcing them to redefine their permanent residence in the United States not simply as a place to live but also as the land that provided them with their major source of nutrients. In the 1920s, California rice became a staple for ethnic Japanese residents and an export item to their homeland. This series of changes marked an important period in a history in which the Japanese immigrant experience intersected with the development of US agriculture and the circulation of food around the Pacific Ocean. The history of California rice from the 1900s to the 1930s reveals the shifting US-Japan trade relations as well as the transnational process in which food kept Japanese immigrants culturally connected to the homeland while further rooting them to life in the United States as permanent residents and consumers of California rice.

Article

Women, Militarized Domesticity, and Transnationality in the U.S. Occupation of Okinawa  

Mire Koikari

After World War II, Okinawa was placed under U.S. military rule and administratively separated from mainland Japan. This occupation lasted from 1945 to 1972, and in these decades Okinawa became the “Keystone of the Pacific,” a leading strategic site in U.S. military expansionism in Asia and the Pacific. U.S. rule during this Cold War period was characterized by violence and coercion, resulting in an especially staggering scale of sexual violence against Okinawan women by U.S. military personnel. At the same time, the occupation also facilitated numerous cultural encounters between the occupiers and the occupied, leading to a flourishing cross-cultural grassroots exchange. A movement to establish American-style domestic science (i.e., home economics) in the occupied territory became a particularly important feature of this exchange, one that mobilized an assortment of women—home economists, military wives, club women, university students, homemakers—from the United States, Okinawa, and mainland Japan. The postwar domestic science movement turned Okinawa into a vibrant theater of Cold War cultural performance where women of diverse backgrounds collaborated to promote modern homemaking and build friendship across racial and national divides. As these women took their commitment to domesticity and multiculturalism into the larger terrain of the Pacific, they articulated the complex intertwining that occurred among women, domesticity, the military, and empire.